And now for one of my favorite three man band, the irrepressible Cream.
The first time I can remember hearing Cream was on a British Invasion compilation that nearly got me sent to a convent at the tender age of 9. More about that on a later post. Anyway, the comp had three Cream songs, the usual suspects – “White Room,” “Sunshine of Your Love,” and “Crossroads.” I couldn’t get enough of “Crossroads.” I still can’t.
Like the three man version of Traffic, Cream sounds like a least a ten man band. And yes, Clapton is God and all that, but one should never overlook the talents of Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker. Jack Bruce was not only one of the best singers of the late 60s era – and by best I emphasize versatile – but he was also a solid bass player, more than a match for Clapton. As for Ginger Baker – I’m sure he’s an octopus. There’s no way he just has two arms.
Cream managed to mash-up blues, psychedelia, and just good-old heavy rock better than almost any of their contemporaries. They were great musicians from the get-go, but it took them some time to develop into songwriters. Recognizing early on that none of them were particularly good lyricists, they employed Pete Brown, who wrote the lyrics to some of their best songs, including “SWLABR,” “Sunshine of Your Love,” and “I Feel Free.” However, over time, each of them developed into songwriters in their own right, each distinctive.
And, the unnecessary “Toad” aside, Cream were tasteful. Even though all three of them could play the hell out of their instruments, they never seem to be showing off. All three members were so talented, so impossible to ignore that no one member could monopolize the space of a song for long.
So here’s to the always underrated three-man band dynamic. The members of Cream never eclipsed that dynamic. These three needed each other, despite the fact that they evidently got along like three cats with their tails tied togetherNothing that Clapton, Bruce, or Baker ever did afterward was as consistently good as the two years of music they made as Cream. . . And yes, that even includes one of my favorite albums of all time, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs.
Enough from me – here goes the music:
Cream made blues standards their own. Unlike the pretentious Led Zeppelin (go ahead and start the flaming comments – I’m ready), for instance, who made dirges out of most of their blues covers, Cream made songs like this one really swing. I don’t know why, but I’m really fond of this one. I got a real funny feeling about it, you know.
Deserted Cities of the Heart
It’s almost hard to believe that it’s the same band, when you listen to “Deserted Cities” after “Lawdy Mama.” “Deserted Cities” is HUGE; it somehow manages to be tight while also being wide open, so expansive that it seems to go on forever. Jack Bruce’s vocal is perfect, never over the top. He was just as adept at this kind of heavy psychedelia as he was the pop of “I Feel Free” or the dirty blues of “Politician,” too. As an aside, this is one of Camille Paglia’s favorite songs. Wow.
Hands down my favorite Cream song EVER. I don’t know what it is about this song that is so affecting… wait, yes, I do. It’s the evocative lyrics and the subtle, but gorgeous arrangement.
“Don’t you notice how the wheel turns ’round/but you’d better pick yourself up from the ground/before they bring the curtain down.”
Clapton wrote this with George Harrison, who also plays rhythm guitar. Makes you wish that Harrison would have left the Beatles and joined Cream, where his talents were put to better use. And the title – Harrison called it “Bridge,” but Clapton misread his writing as “Badge.”
What’s your favorite Cream song?